What Kind Of Person Talks To Others About Jesus?

Sharing Your Faith In JesusThe apostle Paul asks the question, “How can they hear (the Gospel) without someone preaching to them?” (Rom. 10:14).

I get that.

I believe that.

My livelihood as a pastor is based in part on this principle—that people are supposed to talk to other people about Jesus.

What I’m sometimes uncomfortable with is the how, and the by whom, part. While I concede that every follower of Jesus ought to be ready to share the reason for their faith in Jesus (1Pet. 3:15), I suspect that there are some who are not the least bit ready but are sharing anyways.

I liken sharing the Gospel to preparing a meal on a stove–with some experience in the kitchen, some basic instruction on food preparation, and with careful attention, we gain the capacity to deliver an outstanding meal for others to enjoy. Without these things, we run the risk of ruining the food—or worse, possibly setting the kitchen on fire in the process. This is why I don’t allow my 9-year-old daughter to cook dinner without close supervision.

I don’t mean to sound unkind or harsh, but I worry that some well-meaning Christians have done injury to the Gospel by the manner in which they conveyed Jesus to others. I suspect this, in part, because I have observed this. But I also say this reflecting back a number of years and remembering my own manner as I attempted to share the reason for my own faith. Yes, I do realize that “we have this treasure in jars of clay” (2Cor. 4:7), but I worry that we often lack the humility that should accompany our position as “clay jars”.

As I recently closed out a short message series, entitled, “Spread The News”, my concern focused on the qualities of the person who is sharing their faith in Jesus. My text was 1Peter 3:8-17 and my conclusion was that two particular marks are necessary for the evangelist:

1) Mindful of the needs of others

2) Intently focused on the Lord Jesus Christ

The danger is to overexpose on one of these marks while neglecting the other. We need to be marked by both.

Before Peter urges us to prepare our defense of the Gospel, he first exhorts us to “live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble” (1Pet. 3:8). It’s as if Peter is telling us that our success in promoting the Gospel is linked to our capacity for relational health.

Theologian, Edmund Clowney, argues that the Greek translated “be sympathetic” means to “enter into the other’s needs and concerns”. The call to “be compassionate” is along those exact lines. You could say that compassion is sympathy in action. Sympathy feels for others. Conmpassion acts for others.

So, how are we going to get there? Because my default, as much as I’d like it to be, is not the well-being of others. What’s going to help me to be more sympathetic and compassionate?

Peter’s answer: Humility.

This makes perfect sense. In order to live in harmony with others, I not only need to increase my concern for the needs of others, but I also need to decrease the attention I give to my own needs.

In addition to being mindful of the needs of others, we also need to have an intent focus on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Peter exhorts us accordingly in 3:15, “in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” I think Peter realizes that we don’t always assign Jesus to an appropriate place and priority in our life.

I often hear people say, “You’re in my heart”, or “She is close to my heart”. That is saying something significant. Peter wants Jesus to be assigned to our heart—but not simply as someone we love deeply, not simply in a place with dear friends and family—Peter says “in your hearts set apart Christ as LORD.

Jesus is not simply to be “close” to my heart—He is to be the Master of my heart.

As I try and connect what is going on in my heart with what I am required to say, I am reminded of what Jesus has said: “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).

Could it be, that as I think about talking to others about Jesus, my biggest burden is not to get my speech right, but to get my heart right?

What kind of person talks to others about Jesus?

We need to set Christ apart in our heart as Lord, and we need to care more for the needs of others than we do for our own.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

“The Labourers Of Mission”, based on 1Peter 3:8-17, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on Sunday, August 14, 2011.

More Than Words

more than wordsIn my previous post, “Compelled To Talk About Jesus“, I make the case for why followers of Jesus should be motivated to promote the Gospel. Within this post I would like us to consider what the Bible says about how the Gospel should be conveyed.

Most of us, I suspect, when thinking about the promotion of the Christian Gospel, think first about verbal proclamation. Because the Gospel is inherently a message, it logically follows that one of the primary means for advancing the message will be for people to talk to other people about Jesus.

Indeed, verbal proclamation is one of the primary ways we are called to share the Gospel. One of the most compelling calls comes from 1Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

The Greek phrase literally means to “give an apology”—from which we get the term, “apologetics”. No, we’re not being asked to apologize for our faith in Jesus—the phrase in the original language suggests making a reasoned defense in the face of a challenge by another.

I realize that, as I say this, it is quite likely that the prospect of verbally defending your faith terrifies you.

You may be relieved to hear then that the Bible describes other ways in which we can promote the Gospel. My intention is not to diminish the importance of verbal proclamation when I point out that there is more than one way to engage in the work of evangelism.

The first “language of mission” I would like us to look at is the language of prayer.

Prayer is something, presumably, that every Christian already does. And prayer is a meaningful entry point for us into the work of mission. In fact, Jesus commands our participation in this regard. Jesus says to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Mt. 9:37, 38).

Here, Jesus instructs us to pray for more evangelists/missionaries. Pray that God would cause followers of Jesus who are not currently engaged in mission to get onside. Along a similar vein, the apostle Paul calls for us to pray for those who are already actively engaged in verbally proclaiming the Gospel.

Paul implores us, “Be sure to pray that God will make a way for us to spread his message and explain the mystery about Christ, even though I am in jail for doing this. Please pray that I will make the message as clear as possible” (Col. 4:3-4).

Paul specifically asks for prayer believing that prayer is vital to, both, his delivery of the message, and to the effectiveness of the message.

The next language of mission I would like us to consider is the language of giving money.

Jesus has instructed us to go into “all the nations” to baptize and to make disciples (Mt. 28:19). For the great majority of us, however, this is simply not possible. What we might resolve to do instead, however, is to send money to support those missionaries who are able to go and to do the work of proclamation on our behalf.

This is precisely what the ancient church at Philippi did. Paul opens his letter to them by stating, “I always pray for you with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:4, 5). In what capacity did the Philippians serve as partners to Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel? We learn in chapter 4 that it was through financial support. This tells me that we should not diminish the important role of cheque-writing when it comes to advancing the Gospel.

And thirdly, there is the language of good deeds.

This mission language is in the spirit of Francis of Assisi, who was reported to have said, “Preach the Gospel at all times—if necessary, use words.” The idea here is that how we act, how we behave, bears powerful witness to Christ. Jesus says as much in His Sermon on the Mount, challenging us: “Let your light shine, so that others will see your good works and will praise your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:16).

There should be no dichotomy between speaking about Jesus to others and living for Jesus—both, the “talk” and the “walk” are required. The message is what needs to be believed in, but the exemplary lifestyle of the one speaking is what legitimizes the message for the hearer.

In the words the Scottish missionary and Olympic athlete, Eric Liddell, “We are all missionaries. Wherever we go we either bring people nearer to Christ or we repel them from Christ.”

Having reflected on these few texts, I hope that you are encouraged in regard to your obligation to bear witness to Jesus Christ. Your witness need not begin with verbal proclamation. There are other meaningful ways to be engaged in the work of mission.

Through your prayers, through your financial gifts, and through your good deeds, you can meaningfully engage in mission.

And yet, it must also be said that without verbal witness the work of evangelism is incomplete. At the end of the day, after all the prayers, after all the good deeds, and all the financed ministries, it is still necessary for people to tell people the message of Jesus Christ.

What I am trying to say, however, is that you need not start there. Begin with prayer. Look for opportunities to support others already engaged in the work. Build a foundation for dialogue with your kindness and loving deeds.

We need to speak the message–yes–but, let’s also remember that we need more than words.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

“The Languages Of Mission”, based on a variety of biblical texts, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on Sunday, August 7, 2011.

Compelled To Talk About Jesus

Popular comic, Jim Gaffigan, suggests that if you ever want to make people feel awkward at a dinner party, start talking about Jesus. To be honest, I can’t say that I disagree with that statement. And yet, I also know what it is like to feel compelled to talk about Jesus regardless of the context.

In our day, at least in North America, Christians are often made to feel like they are doing something highly inappropriate when they bring up the subject of God in public conversation. We’re sometimes excused of being “pushy” or “arrogant” for bringing the subject up and for suggesting that the God we worship should be worshipped by everyone. I’m not telling you something you haven’t already observed when I say that our society actively discourages the promotion of one religious faith over another.

Why then, do Christians still insist on talking about the God of the Bible? If so unpopular, why do some Christians feel nonetheless compelled to talk about Jesus?

I certainly can’t speak for every Christian. I imagine that the reasons for talking to others about God are varied. I also gather that the manner in which we talk about God to others also varies. I don’t doubt that Jesus is sometimes proclaimed through a tone that wreaks of arrogance and condescension. While I hope that never describes me, I concede that there have likely been times when I have shared the Good News of Christ in a less than ideal manner.

The most common reason, I suspect, for talking about Jesus comes from a genuine concern for other people. Those who have come to experience the profound joy and satisfaction that comes from a relationship with Jesus naturally want to share that experience with those they care about.

Would you be surprised to hear me say that the wellbeing of others is not the primary impetus for evangelism (sharing the Good News) that we find in the Bible?

I am grateful for the ministry of John Dickson, who rightly points to a different impetus for talking about God to others. One of the Scriptural examples that Dickson cites is Psalm 96, where we read: “Sing to the Lord, praise His name; proclaim His salvation day after day. Declare His glory among the nations, (and) His marvelous deeds among all peoples” (Ps. 96:2,3).

There’s the call to get the word out—to everyone and to every place. What’s the reason? The subsequent verse offers the answer: “For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; He is to be feared above all gods” (Ps. 96:4).

Quite simply, our logic for mission is that God is great. God is so glorious, so wise, so holy, so powerful, so loving, so abounding in mercy, that God’s people cannot remain silent.

John Dickson shares a story about Joe Louis, the world famous boxer, that comes from the early 1930s. At a time when Joe Louis wasn’t yet a recognizable face, he was riding a bus through downtown Detroit. While on the bus a group of young men began to taunt and verbally abuse Joe Louis. The young men were trying to bait him into a physical confrontation, but Joe Louis just ignored them. The abuse soon escalated to a point where one of the young men struck Joe Louis. Even then, a restrained Joe Louis did not retaliate, but simply got off at the next stop.

Now put yourself on that bus, just a few seats away from Joe Louis. From the vantage point of knowing who Joe Louis is, how do you respond as this confrontation unfolds?

One response might be to stand up and shout, “You guys are crazy! This guy could really hurt you! For your own wellbeing, stop this nonsense immediately!”

While that response might make some sense, I want to propose that a better response would be stand up and declare to the young men that they should be showing utmost respect to the finest boxer in the world.

You see, these young men were in the presence of greatness, but they did not realize it.

I genuinely care about the wellbeing of others, but something more compelling motivates me to talk about Jesus—His greatness.

This is how many Christians view this world—and this is what compels me to talk to others about Jesus—we live every minute in the presence of God’s greatness, but not everyone realizes this. Until I’m convinced otherwise I will continue to seek to sensitively and sensibly talk about Jesus with others. Sorry Jim Gaffigan.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

“The Logic Of Mission”, based on Isaiah 43:10-13, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on Sunday, July 31, 2011.

10 Books That Changed My Life

Christian Theology WorksDuring my years at Ridley College, and during my time at the University of Western Ontario (beginning as an English major), I had the opportunity to read a wide variety of excellent novels. Particularly memorable were Wuthering Heights, To Kill A Mockingbird, Gulliver’s Travels, 1984, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Frankenstein (I had a Sci-Fi bent). As good as these books were, none of them changed me.

As I set out below the 10 Christian books which did have a profound affect upon me, I wouldn’t want to give the impression that all “Christian” books transform and all “secular” books fail to transform. I don’t subscribe to that. I love how science fiction books stretch my imagination and challenge me to think outside of the box. I have read “secular” books that have elicited powerful emotions from me. I have also read Christian books that were a complete bore, and some which were utter nonsense. But, at the end of the day, as I consider the books (outside of the Bible) which had the biggest impact on me, it was this group of 10–all of which happened to be written for the benefit of followers of Jesus.

10.
according_to.gif (16198 bytes)

My good friend, Brian K. Smith, introduced me to this book, and John MacArthur, in 1991 when I was a freshman in University. Having become a Christian as a teenager, I struggled to live that out consistently. This book challenged me by sensibly laying out what Jesus requires from His followers. Having understood that Jesus was my Saviour from sin, this book cemented in my mind the necessity of Jesus also being my Lord and Master. My Christian walk has never been the same after reading this compelling book.

9. sovereignty.gif (12987 bytes)

Before I even knew what an Arminian was, I was one. I imagined that I was the master of my own destiny. I reckoned that the faith I had in Jesus originated with me. It was again during my University (undergrad) years when a friend’s father encouraged me to read this book. I might say that Pink’s book was the sandpaper that prepared the surface of my heart so that the doctrines of grace and God’s sovereignty (as revealed in the Scriptures) might stick. Pink boldly lays before the reader two alternatives: “God must either rule, or be ruled; sway, or be swayed; accomplish His will, or be thwarted by His creatures.”

8. holiness.gif (18927 bytes)

I am certain that during my undergrad years of University I read more Christian theology / lifestyle books than I did University textbooks. Jerry Bridges’ book was one that I read a couple of times during those years. I had been lukewarm in my faith for too long. The gap between what I believed and how I behaved was too big. Bridge’s book set me on the path to pursuing holiness. To keep this from becoming a legalistic pursuit, I strongly recommend following this work with Bridge’s Transforming Grace, which I read in 1993.

7. lectures.gif (16333 bytes)

If there was ever a book that I wished I had read before graduating from seminary, it is this one. It wasn’t until I was in my second charge as a Presbyterian Pastor that I was introduced to this excellent work. Recommended to me at a conference at Alistair Begg’s church, Lectures To My Students helped me to recalibrate my personal walk with Christ in a way that it overflows into the ministry entrusted to me. Before reading this work, I fear that I had compartmentalized my private faith from my public faith. A must read for every pastor and soon-to-be pastor.

6. preaching.gif (13579 bytes)

This is another work that I picked up at the recommendation of Alistair Begg. In my mind, this is the best book ever written on preaching. Why do I include it in a list of the books that helped “change my life”? Because one of the strengths of this work is Lloyd-Jones’ understanding that preaching and the preacher can’t be separated. The one inevitably affects the other. One of my favourite quotes from the book: “The preacher’s first, and the most important task is to prepare himself, not his sermon.”

5. future_grace.gif (17441 bytes)

I think it was 1999 when I first heard John Piper preach at Moody Pastors Conference. I’ll never forget the main point of his message: “Stop serving Jesus…as if He needed you!” Piper was addressing then, and does so thoroughly in this book, our tendency to want to “pay God back” for the grace we receive in Jesus. Piper makes the compelling argument that we cannot live the Christian life today fuelled by yesterday’s grace. We need grace today! Furthermore, we need grace in the future in order to do that which we are called to do.

4. invisible.gif (14511 bytes)

Having come to accept the doctrines of grace, as revealed in the Scriptures and explained by the Reformers, what remained for me was to understand how God’s sovereignty affects every aspect of our everyday life in a most positive way. Hearing R.C. Sproul speak on this over a weekend of lectures at a Ligonier Conference in Toronto, and reading this work, hugely advanced my understanding of God’s sovereignty and what it means for Him to work “all things together for good” (Rom. 8:28). One of my favourite quotes from the book: “The Providence of God is our fortress, our shield, and our very great reward. It is what provides courage and perseverance for His saints.”

3. desiring_god.gif (14117 bytes)

The turning point within my first pastoral charge (1998-2002) was hearing Piper preach at Moody, and reading this book. I feel like there is a huge difference between the Bryn MacPhail who pastored and preached before reading this book, and the Bryn MacPhail who has laboured since, guided by the compelling principle that “God is most glorified in me, when I am most satisfied in Him.” Members of my congregation at the time even noted the change in my preaching, which had shifted to a new focus: magnifying the supremacy of Jesus in all things. The other distinguishing mark was learning to labour as a delight rather than as a duty. I imagine that this book makes a lot of Christians’ Top 10 lists.

2. crazy_love.gif (10408 bytes)

I read Crazy Love in 2009, in the final year of my pastoral charge in Toronto. This book challenged and changed me on so many levels I don’t even know where to start. Using this space for any kind of review won’t do this book justice. You’ll have to read it for yourself. Disclaimer: This book will make you squirm. I highly recommend the accompanying video curriculum (which I have done with 4 groups in the last 2 years). Chan has a endearing, sensible, manner to him which helps immensely as he lays out some intense biblical principles for us to apply. One of my favourite quotes from the book: “God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.”

1. institutes.gif (16095 bytes)

I was 19 years old when I first read the Institutes. If that sounds young, remember that Calvin wrote the first edition of the Institutes in his mid 20s! I confess to first reading Calvin in order to understand this mysterious doctrine of election. It’s as if I went mining for one gem, but found a myriad of gems. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once described preaching as “logic on fire”–that is exactly how I would describe Calvin’s work in the Institutes. To reduce the Institutes to a treatise on election is to entirely miss the boat. Nowhere else have I found such a rich Christology, such a profound description of the majesty of God, and such a compelling description of how the church should conduct itself. For a book loaded with complex theological statements, one of my favourite quotes from the Institutes is beautifully simple: “Whatever we need and whatever we lack is in God.”


 

My 1st Nassau-versary

Nassau AnniversaryMy wife and I have been feeling quite sentimental the last few days as we consider all that has transpired in the past year. You see, today is our 1st “Nassau-versary”—one year ago today we moved from Toronto, Canada to Nassau, Bahamas.

I shared many of the details related to this transition in a post written in March 2010. This current post is intended as a kind of “Year in Review” that affords me the opportunity to say “Thank you” to those who have helped us along the way.

I’m inclined to keep this post brief having read this morning my wife’s reflection on our transition and believing that she has conveyed better than I  how we currently feel.

One year later, we feel at home.

The transition shouldn’t have been so smooth. None of us had ever lived outside of Ontario. The differences between Nassau and Toronto are too numerous to list. We left behind family, friends, and familiar culture. I left behind, not only a congregation, but a denomination. My wife gave up her Marriage and Therapy practice and transitioned with no guarantee of being able to establish a similar practice here. My 8 year-old daughter left behind the only home she has ever known and all that was to connected to it.

Somehow, in spite of these drastic changes, one year later, we feel at home.

There are many who deserve credit for this. I immediately think of my new congregation, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk. The people have been exceedingly kind toward me and my family. I am acutely aware of my flaws and my shortcomings as a pastor, and yet these shortcomings have been continually met by grace.

As I consider all of the Sessions I have worked with as a Moderator and Interim Moderator, I can say that my experience has always been largely positive. It has only been a year, but I am proud to say that my interaction with the Kirk Session here has been entirely positive. At our last meeting I explained why I hadn’t suggested that we have a Session retreat this year. My feeling was that every meeting felt like a Session retreat. I am so grateful for that.

Many Kirk members have offered hospitality to our family–taking us out for lunch, or having us over for dinner. This may be something that can be anticipated in most congregations, but it is something that I refuse to take for granted. Thank you for your thoughtfulness.

There is always a danger in naming individuals while attempting to say thank you to a group, but I must. Two individuals have gone above and beyond what you might expect from any church leader. Earla Bethel and Robin Brownrigg, by every appearance, have made it their mission to help the MacPhails adapt, settle, and thrive in this new environment. I will forever remember and give thanks for their kindness to my family.

Above all else, I thank the Lord for His sovereign mercy in my life. He has controlled and managed the things that I could not. He has kept congregational conflict at bay. He has shown Himself faithful in so many ways.

I suspect that many people read a passage like Jeremiah 29:11ff and think, “I hope that holds true for me.”  It delights me to say that I have experienced the fulfillment of this promise in my transition here:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Grateful seems like too small a word to convey how I feel today on my Nassau-versary. I say that I feel at home, but I am quite open to the possibility that this might just be home.